Brian Carroll. Carroll doesn't make too many highlight reels, and he can go for two or three games in a row without making much of an impression on the casual fan. But Carroll's contributions are essential to the success of the club and this season, he has done an exceptional job for the Black-and-Red, even if he often goes unnoticed.
In the match vs. FC Dallas last Saturday, United held a 1-0 lead at halftime. Dallas began the second half with a frantic attack. United were back on their heels, to say the least. FC Dallas thought they had earned the equalizer in the 53rd minute when Ramón Nuñez slotted a shot past goalkeeper Nick Rimando. The ball was about two-thirds across the line when it was cleared away by Carroll. He kept the lead for his team, a lead which United would not relinquish.
Carroll has been very durable during his three-year career with United. 'B.C.' did not make an impact in his rookie season in 2003. Ray Hudson was the head coach of D.C. United at that time, and Carroll did not play in any MLS matches that year. At the start of 2004, under new head coach Peter Nowak, Carroll was selected to start in the season opener. Since that game vs. San Jose, Carroll has played in every single MLS match for D.C. United, and he currently ranks third on the MLS consecutive games played streak for active players.
Carroll has one goal and four assists during his career (regular season only) and, although he doesn't often make memorable plays in the attacking third, all D.C. United fans will remember two plays he made at the end of last season which were absolutely essential to United's MLS Cup championship run.
The first occurred in round six of the Eastern Conference Final penalty shootout. After Jaime Moreno missed a shot that would have sent United to MLS Cup, Brian Carroll stepped up to the spot and blasted his kick into the side netting, setting up the game-winning save from Rimando. It was not an easy position for any player, especially one with as little playoff experience as Carroll, but the pressure didn't seem to affect him at all as he helped D.C. advance to the final.
His second memorable play occurred in MLS Cup 2005. United were down 1-0, keeping possession and trying to methodically find the equalizer. Moreno had the ball outside the penalty area, but there were a number of Kansas City players in the box, so he played the ball back to Carroll. Carroll had the ball near the top of the attacking third and could have kept possession and played back to midfield, but instead he made an aggressive decision to go one-on-one against Diego Gutierrez. It was a significant play.
Carroll used good skills and a quick burst of acceleration to go past Gutierrez and send a perfect pass to Alecko Eskandarian, who turned brilliantly and blasted the ball into the net to tie the match at 1-1. The rest is history. Eskandarian deservedly won the MLS Cup MVP, but the championship match changed as a result of a bold decision and a great play from Carroll.
The 2005 MLS Cup Playoffs are about a month away, and United's win at Dallas could be a springboard into the post-season. Like last year, United need all of their players to be at their best. D.C. will continue to look to Moreno and Gomez for the guidance in the attack, to Santino Quaranta and Freddy Adu for support up top, and to Nick Rimando to organize the defense. As for Carroll, he'll just continue to do what he does best - whatever is needed.
Tony Limarzi is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is also the voice of D.C. United soccer, calling all of the Black-and-Red's games live on WMET.